Prison staff need to respond to dementia, says Ombudsman in new bulletin

The Prison Service needs to develop a strategy to deal with the growing number of older prisoners so that staff can manage age-related conditions such as dementia better, said Prisons and Probation Ombudsman (PPO) Nigel Newcomen. Today he published a bulletin on lessons that can be learned from investigations into deaths of prisoners with dementia.

Those aged over 60 are the fastest-growing segment of the prison population, increasing 125% between 2004 and 2014. The Ministry of Justice projects the population in prison aged over 60 to increase from 4,100 in 2015 to 5,500 in 2020. Dementia is a condition often associated with the ageing population. There have been relatively few investigations into deaths in custody which have highlighted issues relating to dementia, but this will be a growing issue as the prison population continues to age. The number of prisoners affected is unknown, although the Mental Health Foundation has estimated it at approximately 5% of prisoners over 55 years old. If this is the case, there are likely to be several hundred prisoners with dementia.

The report found that:

  • when someone has dementia, they may, over time, lose the capacity to make decisions about their care and treatment;
  • lack of appropriate space or facilities can make it difficult for prisons to provide care that would be equivalent to that in the community;
  • prisoners are likely to need support, such as with collecting their food and cleaning their cells and, when used effectively, prisoner carers can provide essential support to prisoners with dementia; and
  • when elderly and infirm prisoners travel to and from hospitals for appointments and treatment, restraints are often used inappropriately.

Download PPO’s “Learning lessons bulletin, fatal incidents investigations, issue 11: dementia”.

The full news release is available here.